A decorated Navy SEAL pleaded not guilty Friday to charges of premeditated murder and other crimes in the stabbing death of a teenage Islamic State prisoner in Iraq last year and the shooting of unarmed Iraqi civilians.
Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher will stand trial between Feb. 19 and March 1 before a jury that will be one-third enlisted personnel. Gallagher has been jailed since his arrest on Sept. 11, and a judge said he will determine next week whether the 19-year Navy veteran should be released before the trial.
The case stands out because of the seriousness of the allegations against an elite special warfare operator and because prosecutors’ case includes the accounts of fellow Navy SEALs, an extremely tight-knit group even by military standards.
At Friday’s arraignment, prosecutors handed over 1,700 pages of documents, including text messages they say show Gallagher trying to intimidate witnesses.
His attorney, Phil Stackhouse, dismissed them as “hearsay and double hearsay statements.” Stackhouse said his client is being falsely accused by disgruntled SEALs who wanted to get rid of a demanding platoon leader.
Navy prosecutors have painted a picture of a highly trained fighter and medic going off the rails on his eighth deployment, indiscriminately shooting at Iraqi civilians and stabbing to death a captured Islamic State fighter estimated to be 15 years old, then posing with his corpse at his re-enlistment ceremony.
If convicted, Gallagher, who was awarded the Bronze Star twice, faces life in prison.
At a two-day preliminary hearing at the Navy base in November, investigators said Gallagher stabbed the teen in the neck and body with a knife after he was handed over to the SEALs in the Iraqi city of Mosul to be treated for wounds sustained by the Iraqi Army and its prisoners during an airstrike in May 2017.
Naval Criminal Investigative Service Special Agent Joe Warpinski told the court that a SEAL medic told him he believed he had just stabilized the teen when Gallagher “walked up without saying anything at all” and started stabbing him.
Afterward, prosecutors say he took photos of himself with the corpse, holding up his knife in one hand and propping up the body by holding the head with his other hand. He also posed with the body during his re-enlistment ceremony captured in the footage, Warpinski said.
Warpinski said that when another SEAL questioned Gallagher, he replied, “I was working on him, and he just died.” Gallagher’s attorney also indicated to the court that the teen died from injuries from the airstrike.
Warpinski, who spoke to nine members of SEAL Team 7, said he was told Gallagher would fire into crowds of Iraqis. He is accused of shooting an elderly man carting a water jug in Mosul in June 2017 and a girl walking along a riverbank in the same area a month later.
Investigators told the court that Gallagher had threatened to publicly name fellow SEALs if they reported his actions.
Warpinski said some SEALs were so concerned that they did not tell him his sniper rifle settings were off so his shooting would be less accurate and they would fire warning shots to clear away civilians.
There has been speculation that the case may widen to implicate others for not reporting what they witnessed.
Prosecutors have already accused Gallagher’s platoon commander, Navy Lt. Jacob Portier, of not acting on the allegations. His attorney, Jeremiah Sullivan, said Portier was the first to report them to superiors and did so as soon as he learned of them. His arraignment has not been scheduled yet.
Navy spokesman Brian O’rourke said the case for now is focusing solely on Gallagher and Portier.
“There is zero interest in taking action against any witnesses at this time,” O’rourke said.
Stackhouse, Gallagher’s attorney, said his client looks forward to clearing his name at trial.
“He’s never run from a fight, and he’s not going to run from this one,” Stackhouse said.
The Navy SEALs Fund has raised more than $200,000 through an online fundraiser for his defense.
“Eddie’s record and reputation as an elite warrior is rivaled only by a few men who have served by his side as special warfare operators and heroes who have gone before him,” according to the foundation’s posting online.
Source: The Associated Press